Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

            I love Nietzsche, which is a little douchbaggy to say, but I took a Nietzsche class in college, which is still a little douchbaggy to say. The professor was extremely impressive and he guided us through Nietzsche’s writings that I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand on my own.

            The Unbearable Lightness of Being* by Milan Kundera tries to be a philosophical romance. Emphasis on tries. The novel takes a theory primarily found in Indian religions: eternal return. Nietzsche spoke at length about how this theory affects the human psyche. “Eternal return” (or “eternal recurrence”) posits that everything that has happened in the universe will repeat infinitely. In religion, the theory is still cyclical in nature, but refers instead to the endless rebirth of souls rather than actual events.

            Kundera takes Nietzsche’s rumination on eternal return and weaves them into a love story. There are the juicy romance bits: sex, infidelity, unrequited love, etc. Amidst it all, Kundera toys with defining life as “heavy” or “light”. According to Kundera, if life happens once and only once, it takes on a character of “lightness”; nothing really matters, and you’re free to make decisions that are less weighty because they have less significance. If life recurs eternally, it becomes “heavy”; you have comparisons between some decisions and others, thus there is a comparatively better course of action at each fork in the road. Kundera relates the light/heavy distinction to the romantic decisions made by the main characters. A choice to remain faithful has greater consequence depending on your philosophical perspective.

            I don’t typically read romance novels, but Daniel Day-Lewis played the lead in the 1988 film adaptation, and I wanted to give the genre a chance. The premise had promise—one part passion, one part cosmic despair. Unfortunately, the execution is insufferable. I regret the time I spent reading this book. There weren't even any interesting sex scenes. This meme is more interesting:

            The novel teaches me nothing about the metaphysical weight of human action or inaction. It bores me to death in its constant doubling-down on lackluster plot points. It confuses me in its roundabout, unnecessarily nonlinear structure. Kundera came up with a light/heavy metaphor and apparently thought it needed referencing on every other page. This is not a Curves class, stop talking about weight so much.

            I am not a philosophical gatekeeper, but I know what interests me literarily, and a lame love story clinging to contrived existential claims does not. The Unbearable Lightness of Being receives 1 out of 5 camel humps.

*Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Print.

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